Nursing-home industry hopes for state, federal help

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 30, 2002

Starting Oct. 1, nursing homes statewide will receive less funding from the federal government for Medicare patients. This, combined with high turnover rates for elder care workers, outdated facilities and a lack of options for the elderly, makes for a difficult time in the industry.

&uot;The reins have been squeezed too tight,&uot; said Tim Samuelson, president of St. John’s Lutheran Home, reflecting on the funding cuts.

In 1987 the federal government, in making the budget reconciliation act, cut the amount of reimbursement money that was set aside for Medicare. To cover that miscalculation, the federal government added to that fund each year, increasing the amount added to correspond with the rising cost of health care. However, the add-on policy is a ‘sunset’ policy, meaning it ends at a certain date. That date is Oct. 1.

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The first 100 days of service for any patient on Medicare are reimbursed by Medicare, but with the changes the compensation will be cut by 10 to 15 percent, according to Samuelson. &uot;We will not be reimbursed enough to cover the cost of these patients,&uot; he said.

Jeff Bostic, a financial research analyst for the Minnesota Health and Housing Alliance (MHHA), estimates that across the state nursing homes could lose $33 million this year because of these cuts, an average of $32 a day for each patient.

Samuelson said these changes could result in layoffs in the rehabilitation section of St. John’s. There may be layoffs elsewhere in the area and around the state as well.

According to Gayle Kvenvold, President of the MHHA, as many as 1,000 nursing home jobs could be cut statewide. &uot;This is a very real threat to nursing homes,&uot; she said. &uot;If Congress doesn’t act to maintain funding at the levels they have been, the changes could be dramatic.&uot;

Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., addressed St. John’s residents Thursday, saying that he was working to pass legislation that would help to maintain full Medicare funding for nursing homes.

Facing these problems has been one of many issues for nursing homes. &uot;There are challenges on many fronts,&uot; Kvenvold said. &uot;Probably the most important is our work force.&uot;

Nursing homes are asking the state for an additional $200 million in funding this year to raise worker wages, help to modernize care facilities and to help other forms of senior care.

&uot;The $200 million would create not just better environment for care but more community options in places like Albert Lea, options such as community assisted living and at-home care,&uot; said Kvenvold.

Kvenvold spoke of the importance of making more options available to the elderly. &uot;The elderly want to grow old in their house and in their community,&uot; she said.

But Samuelson said that in the haste of strengthening other options, nursing homes shouldn’t be forgotten. &uot;There is still a strong need for our kind of care. I just hope that changes don’t occur at the sacrifice of nursing homes,&uot; he said.

Along with making more options, the money would go toward modernizing existing facilities, expanding facilities in anticipation of the baby boomer generation retiring, and, most importantly, according to Kvenvold, raising wages for elder-care employees.

&uot;The current wages in this state have hurt our ability to find and retain qualified and committed employees,&uot; Kvenvold said. &uot;The state has an extremely high rate of turnover in this industry.&uot;

In Albert Lea this high rate is no different. &uot;We have an almost 64 percent turnover rate with our nurses here,&uot; said Samuelson. &uot;There are many jobs that pay about the same rate in the area that don’t require as much, physical and emotionally. So we lose a lot of people each year.&uot;

Lobbying both for federal Medicare help as well as the state for a budget increase, the MHHA and nursing homes statewide have a large political agenda. Kvenvold hopes that these problems are taken care of before they cause too much damage.

&uot;We need to take care of this now or it will mean an even bigger price tag down the road,&uot; Kvenvold said. &uot;Ultimately I think of this as something we need to think about as ‘Where do you want to live?’ Then think about your parents’ or grandparents’ wants. People should be growing old with dignity, without fear of losing their homes and plans for their future.&uot;